Red Dead Redemption 2 takes horses to the next level.
Let’s talk horses. I can remember the very first time, in my humble opinion anyway, that developers nailed a horse animation in a game. It was the first trailer for the original Assassin’s Creed back in 2007 and I pushed my chair back from the desk, striking the wall behind and cried out, “Whoah!” across the office.
The second time this happened to me (although I wasn’t on a chair with wheels) was this month during a hands-on presentation with Red Dead Redemption. It wasn’t the detailed character renders or indeed the mesmerising landscapes in which the game was set; it was the horses. A gentle rear, a swish of the tail, and an occasional neigh – the gee-gees in Red Dead Redemption 2 are as close to actual equestrian footage that you’ll see in a game.
Our host began outlining the work that had been put into them, but the picture in front of me told a thousand words. First up, every piece of equipment, saddle, weapon and stirrup has been animated independently, so whether the horse is descending a slope or galloping along a plain, the accoutrements will behave according to the physics of the movement.
Every horse will act according to the characteristics of their breeds, of which there are 19. You can both buy and sell horses, or break them in when you find them running wild, but you must maintain them. By petting and continually assuring your animal, you build confidence and trust so your loyal steed will perform more efficiently, be able to unlock perks, and is less likely to be spooked when weapons are discharged during a melee. And you have to feed your nag, too, because if you’ve put hours into nurturing the beast and it dies, there’s no regeneration – it’s gone for good.
In towns you can buy tonics for temporary stamina and health. On board, players can store additional weapons, equipment and slain animals that can be sold to butchers for coin.
As your mode of transport throughout the game, you’ll need to treat your horse like a bona fide partner in crime. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “I can make a General in five minutes but a good horse is hard to replace.”